My Tuesday Thriller this week is the tense pyschological thriller, The Operation by Dylan Young.
If your life was on the line, how far would you go?
Surgeon Jacob Thorn isn’t worried when the police interview him over nurse Katy Leith’s disappearance. She is a co-worker, nothing more.
But when a leaked video of him and the missing woman arguing goes viral, the social media reaction is vicious.
When harrowing images of the kidnapped woman start to appear on his phone, along with a demand from her abductor that Jake confesses to a crime he has no recollection of committing, he is forced to act or face terrifying consequences.
He needs to delve into the past for answers. But time is running out for Katy.
Will he admit to his failings and lose everything, or plead ignorance and let an innocent girl die?
Read the first chapter
Tuesday 7th May 2019
TWITTER FEED #findkaty
|Lea Sandler @LeaSand3 7May2019
Katy Leith missing for too many days #findkaty Someone must have seen something. Stand up and be counted. God bless you, Katy angel.
Jamila the Hunny @Jamilihun 7May2019
I hope she’s safe. But all the odds are against it #findkaty Hate killers, hate murderers, hate kidnappers.
Luke the scooper @lukescoop 7May2019
Police have told young women in Oxford to be on the look out. Not to go anywhere alone. WTF is wrong with people? #Safestreets #findkaty
Sid Machine @seemychine 7May2019
When they find who took her, they need behead the turd.
Bring it on. #findkaty. #eyeforaneye
‘FEARS GROW OVER MISSING NURSE KATY”
“We’d like to hear from anyone who knows anything. Even the slightest detail could be vital.”
These are the desperate words of Detective Inspector Joanna Ridley as police ramp up appeals for help in the search for Katy Leith, missing since leaving a works party four days ago.
The headline, white print on a black banner, glares up from yesterday’s newspaper. A bank holiday edition lying folded on the counter of Paws for Claws that I study idly as I wait for my charge. I’ve seen headlines like this before. Harrowing, terrifying stories of abduction and murder. Trite phrasing that hardly touches the sleepless suffering of those closest to the victim. But when she’s known to you, albeit vaguely, the words somehow take on a whole different level of vileness.
I drag my eyes away as the door opens and in bounds Sid, the Labrador Rottweiler cross I’m about to take out for a walk. He’s a black and tan bruiser. A handsome showstopper. His energetic greeting drives all thoughts of Katy Leith from my head as the assistant hands over the leash. Sid neither knows nor cares about missing nurses.
He’s keen to go. I’m with him there so we scramble out, Sid’s claws scrabbling on the linoleum. As we head off. The world is a cornucopia of smells for Sid who seems to point his snout in a hundred directions at once. I have to drag him away from a couple of gateposts but soon we’re into it. We have an agreement, Sid and I; off the leash as soon as we can. But that means no stopping until we get there.
There, of course, is a park where he immediately spots a jogger on the path ahead. He stops, curiosity aroused, tail wagging. I pull him close on the lead. Not easy since he’s thirty-five kilos. I don’t know this jogger. She’s not one I’ve come across on this route. She’s young, lululemoned from head to toe, pony tail swinging rhythmically as she approaches.
Sometimes, when they see Sid, they’ll slow down. Occasionally, they’ll veer off the path — survival instincts kicking in — to give him a wide berth. Understandable given Hollywood’s predilection for Rottweilers as their attack dog of choice. But, though he’s a boisterous dog, Sid’s just sociable. He doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body. He won’t attack anyone unless attempting to lick someone to death qualifies as assault. He’s five and has scars on his face and only half a left ear where other dogs have mauled him. His previous owner thought it would be fun to put him up against the odd pit-bull.
People can be arseholes.
This jogger, I’m glad to see, is not. She’s a good judge of dog character. She doesn’t veer off. Instead, she smiles at me and at Sid as she passes. A transient greeting in an angel’s face. He watches her go and lifts his nose to follow her scent. I ruffle the fur on his head and tell him he’s a good lad. Which he is. Two months ago he would have lunged at the jogger because he didn’t know any better. But I’ve been teaching him manners and how to socialise on our walks, which I do three times a week for Paws for Claws.
I know, it’s a cringeworthy name, but as a shelter they do a great job rescuing the Sids of this world. So they can call themselves whatever they like as far as I’m concerned. And they’re happy for me to take Sid out because, to begin with, no one else would. He was just too much dog. But I know he’s a pussycat, really. Not that I’d never tell him that because it would be asking for trouble, given that they’re two of his favourite trigger words.
When you walk dogs, you meet other dog walkers. Most of us have regular routes. So it’s the same handful I normally see. Wednesdays it’s Ella; a bubbly smiley mother of one. Saturday mornings it’s Galina; young, withdrawn, Eastern European. Memorable for all the wrong reasons. But today, on a frosty Tuesday morning, it’s Rob Eastman.
I haven’t seen him for almost a month, neither here, on a walk, nor at the hospital where he’s a surgical colleague. Mid fifties, bespectacled, with an unfashionable bottle-brush moustache and windblown hair, Rob’s a bit of an enigma. I’ve lost count of how many children he has, though he peppers conversations with their names. Now he’s striding towards Sid and me with a lurcher called Maisie.
When we get near enough, the dogs say hello in their usual unabashed nose-to-tail manner.
Rob grins. ‘Jacob, good morning. Cool though for May.’
The sun is up and there’s dew on the grass. ‘It is. But what a great way to wake up.’
‘Still, way off your patch, aren’t you?’
‘This is Sid’s neck of the woods.’
Rob nods. ‘Bloody awful about that nurse, isn’t it?’
‘Terrible,’ I agree.
‘She’s just a year or two older than our Cassie. Doesn’t bear thinking about.’
I nod. There’s suddenly an empty void in the conversation that neither of us wants to walk into. Sid ends it by barking at a terrier a hundred years away. Maisie joins in. I calm Sid down with a quiet word and a hand on his head.
Rob stares at the terrier, not seeing it, his thoughts elsewhere. He’s dressed in an ancient waxed jacket with ripped pockets and paint-stained jeans. When I bump into him in the corridors at work, his suit and fat stained ties are from the same dishevelled wardrobe. ‘Isn’t it about time you took this feller home?’ He asks with an accusing nod at Sid.
I shrug. ‘I wish.’
‘You’ll just have to sit her down and have that talk.’
I smile. We both know who he’s talking about. ‘Her’ is the reason I don’t have Sid at home. But easier said than done and this is a football we’ve kicked about over old ground many times. Rob’s diplomatic enough to change the subject.
‘Were you on call over the weekend?’ he asks.
‘No. Tina had that pleasure. You’re just back from leave though, aren’t you? Go anywhere nice?’
Rob shrugs. ‘One of my unpaid months.”
‘Ah. Where were you this time?’
‘The Sudan. The damned fighting started up again. Fifty gunshot wounds last week.’
I shake my head. ‘Christ, Rob. I take my hat off to you.’
He tilts his head. ‘Once you’ve seen what needs to be done….It’s hard to say no.’ He looks up at me, eyes slitting. ‘You’ve never thought of VSO?’
‘I’ve thought about it,’ I say. And it’s true. Whenever I see Rob I think about it. Only to file it away as soon as we say goodbye.
‘Well, I have all the connections you’d need in MSF if you ever decide to go. I have another mission scheduled for nine months’ time. You ought to come. Be happy to show you the ropes.’
‘Maybe,’ I say. Because it’s polite. But the truth is, any thoughts I’ve had about volunteering my skills abroad have been fleeting. Elbowed quickly out of the way by work and holidays and house hunting. I try to recall what MSF stands for and eventually it flashes into my head: Médecins Sans Frontières. Oui.
‘Sid’s looking so much better,’ Rob says, patting the dog’s broad rump. ‘God, he was wild when I first saw him.’
‘He’s doing well.’ I nod.
My phone rings. It’s the private clinic where I also do sessions. One of the secretaries there tells me a patient wants to talk to me about her surgery and she’s due in on my next list.
I ask for the patient’s number, but then, while she has me, the secretary asks about further clinic dates.
I wave Rob an apology. Maisie rubs her thin body against my knee.
Rob calls her to him and mouths, ‘See you later, Jake.’ So as not to disturb me. I watch him go. Rob’s a straight-up bloke and I admire him. He’s an excellent surgeon. But I don’t envy him. He and his wife Janet live in an unpretentious semi on the edge of the park. Janet works as a health visitor. He’s told me more than once that the local schools are “bloody good”. There’s never been any suggestion of him sending his kids for private education, and he doesn’t believe in private practice. When he volunteers abroad, he goes to the worst places, the ones with the least facilities, the most in need of help. Though he goes as a general surgeon, he ends up doing obstetrics, orthopaedics, plastics, you name it. The last place he went to, somewhere on the Syrian border, had “no X-ray facilities at all”. I do not understand how he does it, but he has all my respect. It must rub off on his kids because I know at least one of them is following in his footsteps.
Twenty-year-old Cassie Eastman accompanied Rob on one of his Maisie walks last September wearing a T-shirt with Miseris Succerrere Disco, her med school motto, emblazoned across it. I knew what that meant because it’s my, and Rob’s, alma mater. “I learn to care for the unfortunate” is a laudable ethos. Needless to say, irreverent med student humour adulterated it into “miserable suckers at the disco” when I was there. Puerile, I know, but that’s how I remember it.
Yet Rob, God bless him, is a believer in the system. He also believes in giving back. It’s something to aspire to. But not for me. Not yet. Too many rungs of the ladder to climb.
The jogger is coming back again, looping the park. Difficult to know how old she is, but probably not much older than the missing Katy Leith. A little flicker of anxiety dances along a nerve plexus in my guts again.
I do know Katy Leith as a colleague, albeit vaguely. But there’s no denying that I’m probably also one of the last people to see her before she went missing. The police know that too. And today, after I’ve finished with Sid, they’re going to be asking me all sorts of questions.
Routine, I’m sure. I quell the flock of butterflies in my stomach that flutter up by putting in a little spurt of speed with Sid. He watches me run and bounds after me.
As she passes us, the jogger smiles again.
I get a text from the secretary with the patient’s number, so I pull up. By the time I’ve read it, Rob and Maisie are a hundred yards away and Sid’s on to the next set of smells, the jogger forgotten. There’s no one around so I let him off. My phone rings again. It’s Sarah. It’s 7.10am, and she always knows where I am this time in the morning on a Tuesday. She’ll be on the train, Times open on her iPad, FT still folded, coffee — double shot cappuccino with oat milk — on the tray table in front of her. I left the house before she got up, and she’ll be away in London until Thursday. This is how we live. Regimented, some might say. Some do say.
But it’s how we like it.
‘How’s Sid this morning?’ Newspaper rustles.
‘Sid’s fine. He says hello.’
Her lack of response and refusal to play my game tells me that Sarah, though expecting this affectation from me, finds it mildly irritating. Sarah doesn’t like dogs. Nor cats. Nor animals in general. She’s definitely allergic to cat dander, but with dogs, it’s something else. Fear possibly. It doesn’t matter. I respect that. We both agreed that we would not have a dog in the house. That was the second thing in the unwritten contract we drew up when we moved in together. The first was that we did not want children.
I can accept that.
But when it comes to dogs, I need my fix. Hence my thrice-weekly dates with Sid. Hence my blank stare when Rob Eastman jokingly suggests I need to sit Sarah down and have that talk.
‘Beautiful morning,’ I say.
‘It is. Jake, I forgot to tell you last night that I said we’d have a drink with Charlie and Chloe on Friday night.’
Fait accompli. ‘Fine.’
‘Oh, and I’ve left more brochures for D.O.T. There’s one… you know the cottage on the edge of that farm? It’s come down by thirty. We ought to go over and look at it. I thought Saturday afternoon? And then maybe grab a late lunch at the Miller?’
There’s another rustle then Sarah says, ‘The papers are still full of your missing nurse.’
‘They would be. Still no sign of her?’
It’s rhetorical. I listened to the early bulletin on the way to get Sid. The press have the bit between their speculative teeth.
‘Not according to the Times,’ Sarah says. There’s a pause. I visualise her taking a sip of coffee, lipstick leaving a mark on the reusable bamboo mug she uses to avoid an unnecessary cardboard cup.
‘When are you talking to the police?’ she asks after a swallow.
‘This morning, after ten.’
‘Is that going to mess up your list?’
‘A bit. But I’m starting early and I’ve got some help.’
‘Good. Okay, have a good one and try not to kill too many patients, darling.’
Gallows humour. She’s learned how to dish it out. You do when you live with a surgeon.
‘See you Thursday,’ I say, but she’s already rung off.
D.O.T is our shorthand for Dorchester on Thames. Three pubs, Wisteria-strewn cottages and beautiful South Oxfordshire countryside. We’ve talked about moving for a year, and D.O.T is top of our list. It’s eight miles from Oxford and close to Didcot station, which will cut Sarah’s commute by quite a bit. It would be a great place for a dog too.
I quash that idea. Sarah Barstow, that’s her name, is a bright, beautiful, career minded woman. I know how lucky I am. She’s fully supportive of my volunteering as a dog walker, so long as she doesn’t have to go anywhere near. I keep an old jacket, jeans and sweatshirt in the garden shed, so she doesn’t have to be exposed to them, and take them to the launderette once a fortnight when they get too mud spattered and furry. Though I suspect Sid wouldn’t mind if I never washed them again.
I like dogs. We always had one when I was growing up. I enjoy their company. I love the feel of their fur and their unfettered joy at the sight of a ball. University, training and career moves meant I was never in a position to own a dog. But now that we’re settled, I have more time. Sid is a four-legged compromise.
As I said, I generally walk him three times a week. The easiest is a Saturday morning because work doesn’t impinge. When I’m on call, it might be difficult, but usually, I can easily squeeze in an hour. Wednesday afternoons are the next best. That’s when I theoretically have an SPA — supporting professional activity — afternoon. Of course, that ends up being more like two hours than a whole afternoon, but it means I can leave the hospital early. So I pick Sid up at four or a little earlier in the winter, while it’s still light. And finally, there are Tuesday mornings like this one, when I get to Paws for Claws for 6.30 and drop Sid off an hour later.
At 7.35am, I bike back into town. On the way I think again about Rob Eastman’s approach to work, his choices. No chasing private practice. Volunteering his service abroad. It sounds like an uncomplicated life. A much simpler existence.
Much like a dog’s.
There’s a lot to be said for that. How much fun would it be to swap lives with Sid for a day? I let my mind ponder this imponderable for a while and then put it from my mind. Because there are other things to consider within this construct.
Much as I might enjoy chasing after a ball, Sid wouldn’t thank me if he found himself being interviewed by the police about a missing girl.
Want to find out what happens next? You can get a copy of the book here:
Dylan Young grew up in a mining village in South Wales before boarding a train for university in London. A career in the NHS followed, but the urge to write never went away. Three dark psychological thrillers for Random House emerged in the late nineties, two of which were made into BBC films. Over the last decade, under different pseudonyms, he’s written children’s books and an adult contemporary fantasy series. But his liking for crime (writing) never died. 3 books in the Detective Anne Gwynne crime thriller series are now available from Bookouture; The Silent Girls, Blood Runs Cold, and before She Falls. The Appointment, and now The Operation, standalone psychological thrillers with a trademark medical flavour, are published by Bloodhound Books.
Thank you for dropping by to tell us about your new book, Dylan. Wishing you lots of sales!
My first psychological thriller will be out later this year. Look out for the cover reveal, coming soon.